As a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) who has worked under collective bargaining agreements for more than four decades, I know first-hand the importance of labor unions that helped build our nation’s middle class.
I started at the General Electric Aircraft Engine Plant in Albuquerque, and I know workplace safety, fair wages, and a collective voice in the workplace are just a few of the reasons workers join a labor union. Such workers’ rights are so important nowadays as we know we need to expand our American middle class.
That pathway to the middle-class, however, has been thwarted by some corporations that have used antiquated federal labor laws to help suppress workers’ rights to join labor unions. That’s why it is so important we remove these roadblocks by finally updating the National Labor Relations Act, which dates back to the New Deal of the 1930s.
Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema have a great opportunity to update such federal laws by helping to advance the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature into law. This House-passed legislation sits before the Senate, and we still need the formal support of Kelly and Sinema. My union is calling on Kelly and Sinema to join the 47 other senators who have cosponsored the PRO Act. They’d be in good company as research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows more than 60 million Americans would vote to join a union today if given the opportunity.
Organized labor is critically important to Arizona, which ranges from the 1,300 members of IAM Local 933 at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, to the 17 Lockheed Martin F-35 instructor pilots at Luke Air Force Base. Senator Kelly should know first-hand the importance of organized labor. It was scores of IAM members who helped ensure his safety while traveling through space completing his NASA missions. Machinists play an integral role with duties ranging from tooling to handling propellants for spacecraft at NASA installations from Florida to California.
While unions have had successes, there’s more work to be done for those wanting to join. Participating in union organizing campaigns all across the country, including in the West, I’ve seen the horrible lengths companies will go to in order to keep total control of their workforce. It is unacceptable and American workers deserve better. The way to empower American workers is by passing the PRO Act. It would hold employers accountable and institute civil penalties for violations of the law, including back pay and damages.
Another way corporations try to circumvent recognizing a union workforce is by simply refusing to negotiate a first contract. They drag out negotiations for a year and then intimidate and coerce their workers to decertify the union. The PRO Act would require companies to bargain with the union and enforce mediation if a contract hasn’t been reached after 90 days. The act then mandates an arbitration of a two-year contract if an agreement hasn’t been reached following mediation. This change in labor law strengthens workers’ rights to collectively bargain and keeps companies from simply avoiding a union contract.
Lastly, workers in states like Arizona have been burdened with downward pressure on wages from so-called “right-to-work” laws for far too long. These anti-worker laws have more than a 70-year track record of lowering wages, reducing benefits and making workplaces more dangerous. On average, workers in states with right-to-work laws make nearly $9,000 less per year than workers in states without these laws. Right-to-work states are more dangerous to work in and workers are more likely to die on the job. The rate of workplace deaths is 37% higher in states with right-to-work laws. No one should lose their life trying to provide for their family.
The PRO Act will remove the many obstacles keeping workers from their right to join a union and ensure those newly-formed bargaining units reach a first contract. It will also eliminate anti-worker “right-to-work” laws, helping to boost wages and make safer workplaces across the nation. The PRO Act is the labor law reform that has been desperately needed for decades. We can’t continue to fail one of the greatest assets our country has: the American worker.
Gary R. Allen is western territory general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.